A tragic and preventable story has repeatedly played itself out over the past several years. In various countries, people have been refusing vaccines, and as the vaccination rates dropped, outbreaks of previously eliminated diseases began to appear. During these outbreaks, children needlessly suffered, acquired life altering debilities, and even died. Scientists, doctors, and the media all place the blame for these outbreaks squarely on the shoulders of the anti-vaccers, which inevitably evokes a strong reaction from the anti-vaccine movement, with its followers becoming offended and irate over these “insulting” accusations. The reality is, however, that these accusations are completely merited as I will attempt to prove via an analogy.
Let’s talk about hand washing for a minute. Like vaccines, it revolutionized medicine, drastically reduced infection rates, and dramatically increased the average life span. Also, like vaccinations, it doesn’t work 100% of the time. Washing your hands regularly greatly reduces your chance of getting sick, but it doesn’t eliminate it altogether. Your odds of being healthy dramatically go up, however, when everyone around you also washes their hands because this reduces their chance of getting sick, thus reducing the chance that they will spread the disease to you (again, very much like vaccines).
Now, let’s suppose that a group of “thinking parents” decided that washing their hands was “unnatural,” and soap actually contained harmful chemicals and was just a big conspiracy by soap manufactures to make money. After all, if God had wanted them to wash their hands, surely he would have given them a soap gland in their wrist that produces soap naturally. So they decide to rely on their bodies natural defenses (after all, being exposed to all those germs builds a stronger immune system for the future). Sadly, this movement spreads and communities around the world stop washing their hands. Over time, however, a pattern emerges. All around the world in both poor and wealthy communities, whenever hand washing levels drop, disease outbreaks occur, and when you overlay a map of outbreaks with a map of areas of low hand washing levels an amazingly clear image emerges: nearly all of the outbreaks center around areas of low hand washing. However, these outbreaks don’t just affect the anti-washers. While they get sick with a much higher frequency, people around them who wash their hands still get sick from coming in contact with the anti-washers. Further, many children who are too young to wash their own hands become ill, and they tend to have the worst symptoms.
Under these circumstances, can’t we all agree that it is perfectly reasonable and fair to blame the anti-washers for these outbreaks? These outbreaks are obviously their fault, but the outbreaks of vaccine preventable disease are no different. The outbreaks consistently center around communities with low vaccination levels (Gangarosa et al. 1998; Hahne et al. 2009; Antona et al. 2013; Knol et al. 2013). They are being caused by the anti-vaccination movement, and no, anti-vaccers don’t get to be irate or offended by that accusation because they are undeniably guilty. A thief does not have the right to be offended when he is accused of stealing something. You only get to be insulted if you are innocent, and anti-vaccers are clearly guilty. Every time that vaccine rates drop, diseases come back, people get sick, and sometimes young children die. I don’t care if it is “insulting,” the truth is that anti-vaccers’ hands are covered in the blood of people who have needlessly died from preventable diseases. That’s not bullying, that’s not sensationalizing, that’s stating a scientific fact (albeit figuratively described). The anti-vaccine movement causes outbreaks which in turn cause needless suffering, life-long debilities, and even death.